Home Music Music Lists

The 200 Best Songs of The 1980s

The greatest hits of music’s wildest decade – hip-hop, synth-pop, indie rock, metal, Chicago house, Miami freestyle, ska, goth, reggae, acid house, and more

200 best songs of the 1980s


WELCOME TO THE jungle. We got fun and games. The Eighties are one of the weirdest eras ever for music. It’s a decade of excess. It’s also a decade of INXS. It’s got big hair, big drums, big shoulder pads. Not to mention massive stars: Prince, Madonna, Michael, Bruce, Janet, Sade, Cher. New sounds and beats explode everywhere. Hip-hop takes over as the voice of young America. Glam-metal rocks the Sunset Strip. New Romantic synth-pop invades MTV. Thriller becomes history’s biggest hit. Music gets louder, crazier, messier. Do you know where you are? You’re in the Eighties, baby.

So let’s break it down: the 200 best songs of the Eighties, music’s most insane decade. The hits, the deep cuts, the fan favorites. A mix tape of pop classics, rockers, rappers, soul divas, new wavers, disco jams, country twangers, punk ragers, dance-floor anthems, smooth operators, and karaoke room-clearers. There’s all-time legends and one-hit wonders. There’s new rebel voices that expoded out of nowhere. There’s cheese. There’s sleaze. Axl meets Slash. Salt meets Pepa. Echo meets the Bunnymen. Frankie goes to Hollywood. Public Enemy brings the noise. Madonna brings the sex. There’s Chicago house, Detroit techno, Miami freestyle, D.C. go-go. There’s ska, goth, reggae, acid house. But just one song per artist, or half the list would be Prince.

Some of these Eighties songs remain famous around the world. You hear them at weddings, parties, clubs, the karaoke bar. Others make people run and scream in terror. Many are songs you remember; some you desperately try to forget. But every one is a brilliant tune, and each one is part of the unsolvable Rubik’s Cube that is Hair Decade pop.

So welcome to the Eighties. Put this mix tape in the boombox, pump up the volume, and hit play. Push it. Push it real good.

From Rolling Stone US


Luther Vandross, ‘Never Too Much’

The essence of Luther, both his velvet voice and his heart of gold. There isn’t a note in “Never Too Much” you’d mistake for anyone else. “There are vocalists,” Smokey Robinson said, “And then there is Luther.” For all the dramatic heights of epic ballads like “A House Is Not A Home” or “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” his most anomalously buoyant hit “Never Too Much” is the Quiet Storm virtuoso at his warmest.


Lita Ford, ‘Kiss Me Deadly’

Best opening couplet of the Eighties: “I went to a party last Saturday night/I didn’t get laid, I got in a fight.” Lita Ford sounds like a total boss even when she’s singing about everyday hassles like getting stuck in traffic and hating her job. She started out as the guitar hero in The Runaways, side by side with Joan Jett. But she’s all swagger in “Kiss Me Deadly,” her moment of glam-metal splendor. Total suburban realness, especially when her voice leaps out of the mix to yell, “You know I like dancing witchooo!”


Bob Dylan, ‘Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar’

A lost B-side he left off the album Shot of Love, yet it’s Dylan’s toughest song of the Eighties, and maybe his meanest. He looks around at a world in turmoil: “Cities on fire, phones out of order/They’re killing nuns and soldiers/There’s fighting on the border.” A song full of hard rain and apocalypse.


A Guy Called Gerald, ‘Voodoo Ray’

Madchester acid house at its maddest. Gerald Simpson made the charts with an indie single inspired by the edgiest beats out of Chicago house and Detroit techno, aimed at the ravers in The Hacienda. “Voodoo Ray” has a woozy vibe, like a Joe Walsh wah-wah solo gone techno, with the Roland TB-303 beats bubbling over and femme voices casting their spells. One of the hits that put the acid in acid house.


Spandau Ballet, ‘True’

Seriously, though: why DO I find it hard to write the next line? Spandau Ballet gave us all a New Romantic slow-dance classic with “True,” one of the decade’s most divisive hits—you either love this one or hate it. But some of us cherish every moment, especially the way Tony Hadley turns the word “true” into a 17-syllable sob. The Spandaus tell their amazing story in the must-see doc Soul Boys of the Western World.


George Jones, ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’

When George Jones sings about seeing an old friend smile for the first time in years, you can bet your bottom dollar this friend is a corpse who’s just died of a broken heart. But Possum makes you wonder if he doesn’t envy the guy—is love like this a curse or a blessing? The 48-year-old Jones, already established as the greatest country singer ever, turned “He Stopped Loving Her Today” into his bone-chilling late-game signature ballad. Any jukebox that plays this song is a goddam crime scene.


Bronski Beat, ‘Smalltown Boy’

“Smalltown Boy” was a hit that couldn’t have happened in any previous pop era—a trio of out Brits with a song about growing up gay, with Jimmy Somerville’s falsetto wail over the gorgeous synth-pop. “We’re gay, but we come across as very ordinary people who make music that is very commercial but isn’t just throwaway trash,” Somerville told Rolling Stone. “In other words, we’ve proved that you can have a hit record without wearing a frock!”


Smokey Robinson, ‘Being With You’

Smokey is the Smokey of every decade, and nobody else is near his league whether it’s the 1960s, the 1980s, or the 2020s. The Motown master was at the top of his game all through the Eighties, with the breezy romance of “Being With You.” He makes this kind of tune sound simple, except nobody writes them (or sings them) like Smokey. As he told Rolling Stone in 1968 (in a profile calling him “the reigning genius of Top 40”), “It has to be something that really means something, not just a bunch of words on music.” He’s still got it, as in his latest album, the subtly titled Gasms.